Have you ever wondered what we all have in common? You could say all of us humans have many things in common and in today’s world we should be looking at those things instead of our differences. The one thing I want us to think about today is something we have looked at in several ways the last few weeks. That one thing that every human has in common is that we were all born sinners. We covered that in detail a few weeks ago in our look at “original sin” and how the Bible clearly tells us we all are born sinners.
Many people take offense at this notion of them being called a sinner. Many stay clear of it for various reasons with a primary reason being how people in the church have misused the term. Many a well-intentioned Christian or so-called Christian has felt it their “responsibility” to call out the sin in another person’s life, looking down from their high righteous hill upon the failures of the “sinner”. I want us to look at a couple of instances in two chapters in John today to ask ourselves how Jesus approached people with a very different view of themselves in this regard. We will look briefly today at just a few points amid all of the many details offered to us in John 3 and John 4 regarding Nicodemus, a religious insider, and the woman at the well, a societal outcast.
We have all heard lessons or sermons taught about the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. I have referred to what Jesus tried to share with Nicodemus that night many times in these weekly notes. We have also likely heard lessons or sermons taught about the interactions between Jesus and the Samaritan “woman at the well” in John 4. We may have never considered them together though. The Apostle John presented his account of the Gospel in what most scholars agree is the most chronologically in order. How close together in time these two events occurred, we do not know but let’s see what we can learn from how Jesus approached these two, seemingly totally different people.
First let’s look at Nicodemus. He is a very influential man and one whom Jesus Himself called “Israel’s teacher” (3:10). He is a “sinner” and in need of a savior but does not yet realize it. Fortunately he comes to Jesus to ask Him some questions. Nicodemus meets Jesus at night in a private place so others would not know he was talking to this uncredentialed person people were calling a prophet and rabbi. How did Jesus approach this highly religious man? In verse 3, Jesus’s first remarks to Nicodemus are not “Hi, how is the family; or nice to meet you, my name is Jesus and I am from Nazareth.” No, Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ first question or comment by cutting straight to the chase by saying, and I paraphrase, “Look, let me tell you the truth as plainly as I can. You think I am from God and the signs I am doing are from God? Well, no one can see what is really going on here, this look into the kingdom of God, unless they are born again.” Jesus tells this religious person in a very short manner that “I see through your pretense in approaching me the way you have. I see that you think you are good by keeping the law and trying to save yourself. Nicodemus, you have to be born again. You can’t begin to accept or understand what I am doing unless something dramatically happens to you.”
Nicodemus was worshiping the way religion teaches us all to worship. He was doing his own personal best to do all the right things and keep all the right rules and help all the right people. He was living to ensure the “right things” on his perceived scale of justice far outweighed the “wrong things” side of the scale. He in essence though is no different than the Samaritan woman with all of her moral failures, an outcast from society. Nicodemus and the woman both needed the same thing. Jesus tells this man that “you had nothing to do with being born the first time, right. Guess what? You have to now be born a second time. It is still nothing you do. It will take a miracle of grace. That is the only way you will ever experience the kingdom of God.”
I can assure you this was not how Nicodemus thought the conversation would start but I can also assure you that it is exactly what Nicodemus needed to hear. Other scriptures and other traditional accounts tell us that Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus. He even helped Joseph of Arimathea place Jesus’ dead body in the tomb (John 19:39). Jesus knew exactly what this “church goer” needed to hear.
So, did Jesus approach the woman at the well the same way? Did he immediately tell her she needed to be born again the way He did Nicodemus?
The story of this woman at the well is told to us in John 4:4-26. Most people that will read this note are familiar with the woman. She was of dubious character and so much so that she had to go to the well at noon, in the heat of the day, so as to not make the other “good women” that went early in the morning uncomfortable by being around her. Jesus’ first words are not “you need to be born again” but instead, “could you please give me some water to drink”. As simple as this seems, we must recognize it was rather stunning for the time. She was a Samaritan and Jesus a Jew. He was supposed to despise her and should not have considered even speaking to her or so she thought. Jesus though chooses to start a dialogue with this woman, knowing full well who she is and what she is guilty of. After starting a conversation in a friendly way, Jesus then approaches her need in a very insightful manner. Jesus knows that deep-down, this woman has been searching for happiness in all the wrong places. She has been seeking it in this world. She has been seeking it in men and that is not working out very well for her. After five failed marriages, she is now living with a sixth man and this still is not meeting her real “thirst”. Jesus was thirsty physically and asked for a drink. This woman is thirsty spiritually and Jesus has just what she needs. Jesus “is what she needs”.
Not only does Jesus work around to helping this woman see what she needs in a loving manner, but He shares much more with her plainly than He did with Nicodemus. He shared a lot with Nicodemus which is why we refer to John 3:3-15 so much but he shares simply and plainly with this woman that “I am He – the Messiah” (John 4:26). He lets her in on the secret before anyone else. Nicodemus would have loved to have heard those words and received that revelation that night but Jesus knew he was not quite ready. On the other hand, He knew this lady was ready and it changed her life forever and the lives of many in her town and area based upon her testimony.
We are all sinners due to our inherent sin nature that we have had since we were born, that original sin we inherited from Adam. We all need a savior. We all need a “rescue”. We all need a fresh start. Deep-down we all know that and are thus searching for it in different ways.
Some turn to religion and seek to save themselves through works and rule keeping. They want to tip the scales of justice in their favor so to speak. That will never satisfy the true “thirst” their spirit craves. They may live what the world and their friends and co-workers say is a good life and be a good person but there will still be something missing.
Some turn to success, work, accumulation of wealth, relationships with others, some type of dependency or other earthly things to try and satisfy their true “thirst”. These will never satisfy you either and will only, eventually, lead to disappointment.
We all have the same need. There is only one thing that will satisfy that need. That is a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Father Himself. That relationship comes through being “born again”. That relationship comes through the Holy Spirit of God calling out to you and breathing life into your dead spirit. God’s Spirit comes into you, imparting believing faith to you enabling you to then begin a relationship with a true Savior who introduces you to the Father of all Fathers. It works the same for those considered on the inside track like Nicodemus, and those that have veered way the straight path like the Samaritan woman. The Father and Son will hold you in their hands and will never let you go. They will love you in a way this world or any rule keeping will never do. This Savior and this Father are the only ones that will forgive you when you fail. The world will not do that. The world may try and tell you it will but only our God will truly forgive you, pick you up, and help you through each and every day.
The world used to tell those of us that are Christians that we must have something broken inside us in order to need a Savior. We must be weak minded to believe all this stuff and need it to find happiness. The world now is ramping up attacks on us Christians calling us even more despicable and ugly things for choosing to follow Christ. Regardless of what the world may say about you, recognize that you had a problem and it was called sin. There was and is and forever will be only one answer for that problem. Jesus tells us later in John that “no one comes to the Father except through Me” (14:6). He is our answer just as He was the answer for Nicodemus and He was the answer for the woman at the well. He may approach us differently and may send us to others differently. Let God’s Spirit guide you in how you approach others that do not know our Savior and help them see the real need they have, the need for a loving Savior and true Father and then let God’s Spirit do His work.